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An aviation industry is born Saabs early years

Innovation is part of our DNA

Innovation is central to Saab’s existence. Throughout our history, an innovative culture, innovative processes and innovative products have kept us constantly exploring, improving and succeeding.

The Saab we know today was born from innovation. In the late 1930s, as another world war loomed, Sweden’s urgent defence requirements and lack of access to foreign technology meant the country needed the Swedish aircraft industry to supply the Swedish Air Force.

With great demands from the Swedish state but limited finances and resources, the fledgling company had to be innovative from day one. The Second World War meant Sweden couldn’t import technologies for its air force, but Saab learned from what was out there to improvise and innovate, creating its own varieties of planes and engines. The B17 bomber-reconnaissance aircraft was an early example of the resourcefulness and innovation that are part of Saab’s DNA.

Although Saab started as a pure defence industry company, the end of the war and impending military budget cuts prompted the company to branch out into civilian aircraft and applications. This process would pave the way for the company’s merger with Scania between 1969 and 1995. Mergers such as this showed that diversification was an important part of innovation, spreading the risk by securing additional sources of income and using technology in different areas.

The Swedish engineering spirit

As a business that prioritises continuous improvement, adaptability, individual responsibility and customer focus, Saab’s company culture embodies the best of the Swedish engineering spirit.

Employees at Saab not only to do their job. They are also expected (and trusted) to find ways to improve processes and products. Among Saab’s voluminous archives are 80-year-old handwritten memos from workers to management, pointing out where an improvement can and should be made.

This continuous improvement and future-proofing is central to Saab’s philosophy of innovation. That’s why Saab products as varied as the Carl-Gustaf recoilless rifle, first marketed in 1946, the Gripen smart fighter aircraft that was first designed in the early 1980s, and the new A26 submarines are all built with a modular approach.

Ultimately, Saab’s approach to innovation involves four aspects: listening to our customers to find out the desirability of an offer; examining the feasibility of creating it; establishing the economic viability of the offer; and assessing its adaptability to outside factors such as trends, industry forces and other market forces.

An aviation industry is born Saabs early years

Prioritising R&D

With each aircraft Saab has delivered during its history – the B17, B18, J21, J29, 32 Lansen, 35 Draken, 37 Viggen and 39 Gripen – there has been a huge technological leap, which has required an intense focus on research and development. Where most industries spend roughly 5% or less of turnover on R&D, Saab spends 25%.

From very early on in Saab’s history, the company had a large percentage of employees involved in development and design. The focus on solving new problems with new ideas has given us a mix of specialists in a huge range of professional disciplines.

This created an engineering bureau that became a beacon for ambitious talents and a hotbed of innovation. Today, Saab continues to build upon its already strong ‘triple helix’ approach with talent from academia, industry and government, to foster economic and social development. Saab is also engaged in developing new solutions together with all of its suppliers, from big corporations to fledgling start-ups. Saab Ventures is another point of innovation and was created to spin off Saab-generated ideas. Today it has created several new successful companies based on technology from Saab. 

Saab’s diverse innovations

With such a wide range of knowledge under one roof, it was inevitable that Saab would begin to see new ideas and projects emerging. A “competence dispersal effect” works its way in and around Saab, meaning that skilled people move between companies, suppliers learn from each other, and new businesses are established to develop ideas created when the employee was with Saab.

Our innovation principles have also led us to diversify into some surprising areas, often accompanied by our willingness to share technology for the betterment of society.

For example, the amazingly successful (and empowering) ‘Permobil’ electric wheelchair was developed and initially marketed with Saab’s help, while the SARSYS-ASFT measuring system began life as the Saab friction tester, a Saab 900 car with a fifth wheel that could measure the braking co-efficient on an aeroplane runway. Years later, the car has changed but the principle and the application remain the same.